Beltane – Sacred Sex

I’m continuing to republish a series of articles. This one was originally written in 2012.

In addition to the four Elements, on the cross-quarter days of the Wheel of the Year this year I’m going to explore four major themes or concepts that I think are deeply important in Wicca. Please note that Wicca is not the only kind of Paganism that there is and that even within Wicca interpretations vary widely, so this is not authoritative about anyone else’s practices or beliefs. It’s offered as food for thought.

Wicca is not a religion based on a text. Even the forms of worship vary tremendously, with nothing resembling a formal liturgy that is widely accepted or agreed upon. Most Wiccans, though, are familiar with a few important pieces of writing and many use them in ritual at times or consider them important reflections of the religion. The best-loved of these is Doreen Valiente’s The Charge of the Goddess.

The Charge exists in many forms and has been revised over the years by different practitioners. Here is a version by Starhawk, a famous feminist Pagan author. I’ll note that some people use the whole thing, but I personally only use the section from “Hear now the words of the Star Goddess…” to the end. In British Traditional Wicca, the Charge is read at each ritual, and others may use the Charge similarly, especially near Beltane. The reason is simple. One of the most oft-quoted lines of the Charge says:

Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.

In Wicca, sex is sacred. This has a lot of metaphysical connotations: the union of Goddess and God is seen as the source of everything, and stories of that union take many forms. But it’s also about the purely human. Beltane is traditionally a fertility festival, even more so than Ostara, perhaps; as we begin to enjoy the longer days and warmer temperatures of spring and summer, it’s natural to be interested in making whoopee. And as we noted at Ostara, our nonhuman neighbors also tend to engage in acts of love and pleasure with great enthusiasm around this time of year.

But for me, it’s important to understand that this valorization of sex is about a lot more than it can seem. Yes, “all acts of love and pleasure” certainly refers to intercourse, and it also refers to a lot more than that; any loving act of pleasure is included, regardless of the genders of people involved. It doesn’t say “acts of love and pleasure that lead to conception” or even might lead to conception. To me, it’s a bit misleading to say that this is about fertility – unless one expands the concept of fertility to mean a lot more than simply making babies.

One of the ways I like to express this is to say that it’s not as much about having sex as it is about making love. My partner and I make love with each other in all kinds of ways that happen fully clothed and outside the bedroom: he makes dinner, I do the laundry, he gives me a foot rub, and we go to sleep having expressed our love for each other with great depth and passion, just not with “sex” per se. Don’t get me wrong – sex is one of my favorite ways of making love – it’s just not the only one, or the most important one for all situations.

Think also about the meanings of the word “intercourse.” Yes, it is usually used only to refer to sex these days. But historically, its meanings have included what today we might call “dialogue” or “exchange,” where people engage with each other in any number of non-physical ways. To me, these too can be acts of love and pleasure. When two friends have an engaging conversation that leads to the creation of a work of art, I can see that as a kind of non-sexual “intercourse” which has also brought forth something new in the world. And if a work of art has a life of its own, as we often express it metaphorically, then this too is a kind of fertility, of bringing new life into the world.

These expanded ideas of intercourse and fertility make my understanding of Wicca one where sex is sacred not because of sex acts themselves, but because it is one of the most wonderful, vital examples of a whole class of activity – all acts of love and pleasure. Wicca is about connections: connections within nature, connections to deity, and connections between individuals. All acts of love and pleasure that create and celebrate connections between people, especially ones that are fruitful or productive in those people’s lives, are sacred.

This weekend, participated in a ritual that included dancing the Maypole. The Maypole has a long history as a fertility symbol. But what struck me about it, as I steadied the pole and my friends whirled around me, was not the pole itself, but the network we wove as we did so. This wasn’t just about union between two people; it was also about community, coming together to celebrate how our interconnections are important to the fabric of our lives, and how those interactions bear fruit in so very many forms.

And those are what I celebrate this Beltane. Yes, I include plenty of bawdy humor and making love both in and out of the bedroom with my partner, but I also celebrate the ways that I connect with others: through song and story, image and word, through all the myriad interconnections that make my world the vibrant, vital place that it is. One of those is the Slacktiverse, and so I celebrate each and every one of you, too, this season. With that, I wish you many acts of love and pleasure, of many different kinds. Bright Beltane to you all!

Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

Recognizing reality: women in combat

The only reasonable response to the fact that the armed forces are dropping their ban on women in combat positions is: It’s about damn time.

Women have been exposed to combat in various ways for 20-odd years, depending on how you count. Certainly since September 11th women have been in a war with no front lines. More importantly, they’ve been a vital asset for working with civilian women in the population. The ban on women in combat has been a polite fiction, a way of soothing peoples’ consciences at the cost of harming the careers of military women.

I agree with Hecate and Echidne that I wish we didn’t have wars and combat, and I’m sorry that anyone is fighting in them. But while we do, one of the very least things we can do is be darn well honest about what women are doing in those situations.

Of course the religious right is losing their collective minds over this, but that means they haven’t been paying attention to reality in the meantime. I’m also particularly amused that this happens just a few weeks after the Military Officers Association of America, a private organization that my dear spouse joined for the job-networking benefits after he gets out of the service, announced that the winner of its annual essay contest was a piece about how women shouldn’t be in combat. It was full of the usual essentialist tripe; something about women as the creators of life shouldn’t be in a situation of death really rubbed me the wrong way, and another part basically saying that America wouldn’t have been able to handle it if pictures of a woman’s dead body (possibly with, gasp, private parts showing!) were shown on TV made me convinced that the author hasn’t actually looked at American TV in the last 20 years.

Very little will change because of this, almost certainly nothing that your average civilian will notice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and it will matter to the women who have been held back because of it. So: it’s about damn time.

Now we need to fix the problems some of those servicemembers, male and female, face when their spouses aren’t recognized as spouses. DADT repeal was a good step – that was also recognizing a basic reality. Now we should treat their families on equal footing. DOMA has to go.

Lies and double talk, double talk and lies

Yesterday I made an Orwell reference (Eastasia) when talking about conservative Christians and their growing opposition to contraception. It was kind of passing comment, but it deserves its own post.

Unfortunately, I’m not the person to write that post. You might say I’m memory-challenged in this area, because I can’t remember things that happened before I was born – like when Roe v Wade occurred and nearly every church organization besides Catholics agreed that abortion was a difficult issue, but one that a woman and her doctor could handle by themselves. Fortunately, Fred Clark was there, and he has been writing about it. Here’s another piece on how Hobby Lobby and evangelical groups are trying to rewrite the past for political gain in the present:

Absurd? Sure. But once you rule out all regard for fact and memory, then there’s no avoiding the absurd. If evangelicals let their leaders get away with this “abortifacient” lie and with the Orwellian pretense that it’s not a contradiction of their past teaching, then those leaders can get away with anything.

The parade of absurdity goes on when a Catholic hospital insists that potentially viable twin fetuses couldn’t possibly be considered human beings for the purpose of a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The ones who lose in this, over and over again, are women. Period. Salon had a piece that links to a shocking study about how often pregnant women’s rights are infringed simply because they’re pregnant. Increasingly, this is done by law enforcement officials simply deciding that certain laws about children apply to fetuses – a sort of personhood-by-sherriff move. Salon describes this as an anti-abortion tactic. It’s not. It’s an anti-woman tactic. They’re not stopping abortions by pretending that pregnant women aren’t allowed to drink wine or be in a bar, they’re controlling women’s behavior. The study’s author concludes:

There is no gender-neutral way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to the Constitution without subtracting all pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons.

The double talk shows that the motivations they claim are a lie; the only truth behind it is a desire to control women.

Ethical ‘love spells’

Since we’ve discussed why stereotypical “love spells” are unethical and almost always a reflection of rape culture, I want to mention two kinds of spells that address the desire for a relationship in ethical ways.

One good approach might be called the wide-field love spell. Someone who wrote to me put it very well when zie said: “I asked the universe to bring me MY love, the life-altering love I was supposed to find, rather than identifying anyone in particular.” That particular spell worked smashingly well for hir, and I’ve heard other similar accounts.

It should be fairly clear that this kind of spell isn’t treating someone else as an object of manipulation. There are lots of ways to do this spell; most of the differences depend on how specific you are about what you want that person to be like. Some people advocate more specificity, possibly right down to physical details, while others place their trust in the universe and/or deities about some or all of the fine points. (See also: “And her hair shall be what colour it please God!“) I think there’s some interesting discussion to be had about why some people prefer one approach over another that gets down to how and why we think magic works, or why we use it the way we do, but either way, it’s ethical by my lights.

Yes, you can use the “specificity” approach to try to get around the uncertainty. But if you say, “Dear Universe, please bring me My One Troo Luv, whoever that might be. I want him to be somebody in my second-period algebra class who has dreamy green eyes and plays soccer and is named Travis, or somebody just like him, for the good of all and harm to none, so mote it be!” then you are missing the point of not manipulating people. Also, the universe will laugh at you and Travis’ identical twin brother who is a real dork will follow you around for the rest of tenth grade. I’m just sayin’.

Another way that we avoid ethical concerns is that instead of casting a spell on someone else, we find a way to cast something else for a similar intent on ourselves. In the area of relationships, this usually amounts to casting a spell on oneself to make oneself more lovable and/or attractive. Notice that this has the same effect of widening the field, removing the issue of manipulating an individual.

There are also plenty of ways this can go wrong, of course. You can try magic to make yourself more attractive – and I have a strong suspicion that an eyeliner pencil or a makeup brush would work just fine as a magic wand – but if you fall into the trap of superficial thinking, you may be disappointed with the results. It might attract a superficial response, or it might attract a response from someone you can’t stand for other reasons. If instead of concentrating on appearance you work to make yourself more lovable, that’s a laudable goal and possibly will help you address some of your own internal issues but no guarantee of a satisfying relationship.

These approaches both involve a lot more uncertainty than the stereotypical “love spell.” That’s not an accident. Treating other people ethically involves not trying to control every detail of every occurrence, because to treat others ethically we have to recognize that they are full human beings in their own right, with their own histories, feelings, thoughts, goals, and motivations. This is about a lot more than free will: it’s about treating someone as a person, rather than objectifying them into a thing to be controlled. Being open to the unexpected, including even pain and loss, is what makes the joy and wonder of a real relationship possible in the first place. That’s the real magic of love.

Questions about love spells and ethics

Someone emailed me with questions related to my recent writing about the ethics of love spells. They indicated that they emailed me because I don’t allow anonymous comments, but when I replied by email, the reply failed. I’m posting their questions (anonymously) and my response here instead.

OK, so what about spells that make someone who’s in love with you go away?  Those also interfere with a specific someone’s free will but are considered moral by a lot of the same people who consider love spells too coercive.

For starters, this can’t be rape because there’s no sexual contact.

This is another place where I think that “no interfering with free will” is an unintelligible ethical precept. If we’re affecting others, we’re interacting with and possibly curtailing their free will. The people who actually propose this standard don’t usually adhere to it; it’s shorthand for something deeper, and in the case of love spells, I think one of the deeper reasons that certain kinds of love spells are wrong is the way they are part of rape culture, which is why I think it’s important to talk about that openly and clearly, not fall back on a shorthand that actually obfuscates.

Try applying the standard that I suggested as one evaluation tool among many: would equivalent action in the real world be legal and/or ethical? For most ways of doing this spell, the answer is a resounding yes; take the example of a restraining order. If you shape your work to carry an intent like “leave me alone” (rather than “do not contact me,” because negative phrasings are often ineffective), what you’re doing is ethical by my standards.

It can be structured as a reactive boundary; if the person doesn’t approach you (physically or with communication), nothing happens. If they do, they get rebuffed. If you believe in/abide by the Rule of Three (or Law of Return or some similar precept) be sure to fine-tune what you see getting “bounced back” at them as the least harmful way of doing things: “go away,” leaving off the “you bastard!” blast of anger.

On the other hand, if you have an intent like “so-and-so will lose hir job with our employer so that I don’t have to be in contact with hir anymore,” you get into more iffy territory. What would the mundane world equivalent be? Well, if you’re going to go to your employer with a complaint of sexual harassment, I would definitely do magic in support of that. On the other hand, if it’s a personal relationship outside the workplace that went wrong, a whisper campaign to have the person lose all respect and be hounded out is definitely not ethical. The corresponding action in the real world may or may not be legal, but I think the fact that most of us wouldn’t want it to happen to us combined with hazy legality is a good enough indicator that it’s unacceptable.

But what if what you’re saying is true, and you just want everyone to know so-and-so really is a bastard? Well, you could do a “sunlight” spell, one with the intent that the truth of their actions be revealed, but these kinds of things are tricky. What’s the mundane world equivalent: taking out ads on the sides of buses declaring so-and-so a bastard? Writing a scathing blog post? Those actions are extremely difficult to manage, often bouncing back on the writer in very ugly ways even if they’re saying nothing but the truth. Making the statement is generally legal, and I would agree that these spells are generally ethical (not always), but a spell for this is at least as tricky to handle as the mundane action, and usually much more difficult to pull off without crossing ethical boundaries – see below about intent getting mixed up.

Also, what about spells to make someone love you who already wants you sexually, but doesn’t want a relationship?  Are those considered rape by your standard?  They’re not forcing someone into sex (that’s already freely given) but into, well, love.

The last question you ask is a harder one.

No, those wouldn’t be rape, if the sexual contact is freely consented to. On the other hand, if Person A is having sex with Person B, and A wants (more of) a relationship but B doesn’t, there’s a distinct possibility that A may be consenting to the sex in hopes of building a relationship, or with an ulterior motive, or simply to satisfy the desire to interact with B even in the absence of any other kind of relationship. None of those are, in and of themselves, rape, but they are fertile ground for all kinds of terrible relationship problems, even for a “solely” sexual relationship. The idea of doing a spell to create a romantic relationship on top of that foundation fills me with dread. There are so many ways it could go wrong – especially if it succeeds.

The relationship starts, and A decides B really wasn’t ready, or the relationship is a bad idea. The relationship starts, and B is madly, soppily in love, until it drives A nuts.  The relationship starts, and A realizes the sex wasn’t all that great, it was the idea of not being able to have more that was the driving interest. And even the best case is suspect: it works, they get married, live together for 15 years and raise two kids, with A wondering all the while if B’s love is really real or just the result of the spell.

And how would you feel if you found out you had been the target of such a spell? If it were me, it would run the risk of destroying a relationship. He doesn’t feel like he can attract me on his own, so he had to compel me using magic? Not cool.

To return to my earlier rule of thumb, this is a case where it’s very hard to imagine a specific mundane world equivalent. That always makes me suspicious of such spells. It would be possible to structure it with a specific mundane equivalent in mind: a spell equivalent of your mutual best friend telling your desired partner that the two of you would be really great together, for example. But in my experience, what’s actually going to drive the spell is your desire for a relationship, not your burning desire to plant the seed of the idea and accept rejection peacefully, so it’s extremely likely that what you’ll actually do, magically, is raise and send energy for having-a-relationship purposes.

If you can’t hold the specific intent without something else springing up mentally or emotionally, then you can’t do magic for that purpose alone. Can we harness other kinds of emotions towards a specifically visualized end? Yes. Being honest, can most of us really totally repurpose the intention of something that’s as personal and deeply powerful as desire? Not very well.

Overall, this is a case where I think that while it might or might not be ethical, it’s such a bad idea even in the best scenarios that it is a very foolish thing to do.

Calling things what they are: firing an employee who was harassed

You read that right. In a recent Iowa case, a dentist fired an employee because she was so attractive that he and his wife were uncomfortable. Several sites have covered this as the “firing attractive employee” case, and that’s bad enough. But when you get into the details, it seems there’s something they overlooked:

But sometime in 2009, he also began exchanging text messages with Nelson. Most of these were work-related and harmless, according to testimony. But others were more suggestive, including one in which Knight asked Nelson how often she had an orgasm. She never answered the text.

In late 2009, Knight’s wife found out about the text exchanges and demanded her husband terminate the dental assistant because “she was a big threat to our marriage.”

That looks like sexual harassment to me. I don’t know what the legal nuances are, and I’m not saying she should have sued him, but when a boss starts asking me about my orgasms, that’s inappropriate. So let’s call this what it is: first he sexually harassed her, then he fired her for his bad behavior.

The court ruled that the dentist wasn’t discriminating against her as a woman when he fired her, so it was legal. Apparently he was only discriminating against her as an attractive woman, and that’s a-okay. That’s awful. But the way that others are reporting on this story while neglecting what makes it really reprehensible just goes to show how we still don’t take sexual harassment seriously.

Further thoughts

Follow-ups to a couple of recent posts, plus other assorted thoughts.

Guns:

Salon explains why the answer is not more guns:

But perhaps the biggest problem is the philosophy underpinning notions to arm more people. Goddard of the Brady campaign said it best in an interview: “The idea behind concealed carry is a kind of ‘defend yourself and your family and fuck everybody else’ mentality.”

… “America is not going to shoot our way out of the gun violence problem, and that’s what these people are calling for. And I think that’s dangerous and I think that will lead to more of us being killed by bullets,” Goddard said.

Read the whole thing. Seriously. I quoted the philosophical points, but this is one of the best evidence-dense debunkings of pro-gun bullshit that I’ve seen lately. If you’re going to argue for gun control, you need this information. Another article responds in similar detail to why the NRA’s plan for putting (more) armed guards in schools is a terrible idea.

For a more historical perspective, read Tony Horowitz on the similarities between the NRA’s idea of maximum guns and the proponents of expanding slavery.

In short, the NRA has become a neo-Confederate movement that sees Federals as foes, and that stokes the paranoia of its followers by claiming, as LaPierre did this year, that Obama’s re-election marks “the end of our freedom forever.” That’s more or less what Fire-Eaters said about Lincoln in 1860.

The argument about gun rights in this country has a much longer, more twisted history than most people are aware of. It also cannot be separated from the history of race – I had no idea about the Black Panthers’ aggressive use of gun rights (and the NRA’s calls for gun control in response). It looks to me as if the idea of “gun rights” has shifted from its historical roots in a way very similar to the transformation of Republicans from the party of Lincoln to the party of angry white men, mostly southern.

And on that note, Goblinbooks says something like what I said about how defending oneself against tyranny with household guns is nonsense, but does so much more stylishly.

Love spells:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

Why the s0-called fiscal cliff is a feminist issue:

Women get lower pay all their lives. Then they tend to live longer. When we’re talking about further impoverishing our nation’s seniors, we’re disproportionately talking about women. Talk to your political representatives and tell them to push back against the chained CPI and raising the Medicare eligibility age, which would actually cost more. Tell them to raise the cap on Social Security taxes (that is, tax income over $110,000 for Social Security) and solve this puppy without putting more people, and more women, into poverty.

Science, climate change, and cash:

If you’re younger than 27, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month. Never.

Therefore any memories you have that you’re using to judge how much our weather is shifting over time are themselves already skewed.

This enables people like the Kochs to make gut-based appeals that cover for their lack of solid science. I haven’t read the whole report there yet, but I have been following a few other stories about how the Kochs and their cronies are so very deeply invested in convincing us, by hook or by crook, that we should keep making them rich and making our world hotter.

Notice the similar dependence on appeals to uninformed instinct between the Kochs’ denial of climate change and the NRA’s denial of gun violence. Our memories make it easier to disbelieve that the climate is changing, because our memories themselves are shaped by that changing climate. Our instincts tell us that we’d be better off if we were armed, because our instincts are shaped by the culture of violence, complete with magically perfect good guys who, as far as evidence can find, don’t actually exist in real life.

Life is messy, and complicated, and understanding it takes real work. But that understanding can be the first step to change. Won’t you try with me, as the light begins to return in this new year, to take those first steps, to change?

When love spells become rape

As I mentioned in the last post, there were many things that speakers said at Between the Worlds that I was glad to hear people saying, actively, in the Pagan/magical community. There was one glaring omission:

“Love spells” as most people think of them are a magical form of rape.

The panel on operative magic did discuss love spells. Everyone shared the basic assumption that “love spells” as popularly conceived – the kind of spell that Dick does so that Jane will love him and want to have sex with him – are not okay. Different speakers mentioned different perspectives on why these are ethically and practically not acceptable. People talked about how there is a more general kind of “love spell” which is ethical and acceptable – a spell to make oneself more lovable or to draw love in general into one’s life.

Everyone agrees that trying to magically coerce a particular person is NEVER okay – because it’s coercion. I was disappointed that none of the speakers said the obvious: that this coercion is never okay because coerced sex is rape.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki came closest when she repeated the oft-stated concern that this is “interfering with someone else’s free will” and went on to more colorfully describe that there are other ways to try to create a relationship with someone. But no one used the “r word.”

I think it’s vitally important that people who do magic and are feminists say this loudly and clearly: magic to get sex with a person is not okay because it’s rape. This goes beyond concerns about “free will,” a rather nebulous concept. This is about consent, and consent is what separates sex from rape.

In the wake of other examples of supporting rape culture, this is especially important to me. There is a big, bright, bold, clear line here. There is no room for “I did a spell to get Jane to love me, and I said ‘for the highest good for all!’ so it’s clearly a good thing!” There is no room for “She likes me, she just won’t go all the way, so I’m just doing a spell to help us along…” There is no room for “I know better than she does what she wants.” Those are rape culture in magic, plain and simple.

I know people want these kinds of spells. One of the speakers on that panel sells candles, and she pointed out that a “Become more lovable” candle – the ethical second-cousin to the kind of “love spell” that is really magical rape – didn’t sell at all. People don’t want to be more lovable. They want the person they want, and they want her (usually her) now.

That’s why this is rape. That’s why this conversation matters even if you would never do a spell like this. When we don’t call this out, we make space for rape culture. You know what rape culture produces? Rape.

The idea that someone else can be treated as an object of your will – whether in magic or not – is at heart the idea behind rape. Sex is something that people do willingly together. Rape is not.

I’m a big fan of Isaac Bonewits’ rule-of-thumb for magical ethics, which basically asks whether it would be against the law for you to do the mundane equivalent of whatever your spell is for. If you were doing a spell to have an honest debt repaid, the equivalent would be taking your debtor to small-claims court: totally legal. If you were doing a spell to have someone die, the equivalent would be murder: definitely not legal.

So if you’re doing a spell to get someone to have sex with you – and don’t bullshit me, most “love spells” are going to be judged a success based on whether or not you’re in bed with the person, not by a passionate but celibate exchange of letters for twenty years – then the mundane equivalent is coercing her to have sex with you. Rape.

In any sense, mundane or magical, the message is the same: Don’t rape.

Edited to add: I wrote more about why this matters in a potpourri post a few days later, but that post was such a mish-mash that I want to append this here as well:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

I don’t exist, and other important news

Another GOP politician has revealed his magical powers of anti-science, and he’s come to a startling conclusion: I, dear reader, do not exist! Apparently this post is writing itself.

No, really. I fall into the same category of mythical beings as unicorns, because according to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-My Uterus), modern medicine has made it impossible for a woman to need an abortion to save her life or her health:

With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance…There’s no such exception as life of the mother. And as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology, health of the mother has become a tool for abortions anytime under any reason.

It seems I need to get busy imagining a future where I’m allowed to exist.

This guy’s running for re-election. These are the people who make the laws, folks. They believe I don’t exist. And if they get to write the laws they want, eventually, they’ll be right – but not because their failure to grasp basic biology will magically solve my problems. No, they’ll be right because women like me will die.

In Virginia, they’re working hard along those lines. A member of the Board of Health resigned her position because of the efforts to legislate women’s health clinics that provide abortions out of existence.

In good news, Obama finally diagnosed what Romney’s been suffering from: it’s not lack of backbone or actual devotion to any particular policies, it’s Romnesia. Good thing pre-existing conditions are covered under Obamacare.

I can only hope that the law is upheld so that we can say the same thing about reproductive health care.